As the focus of the Armed Forces has been moved more and more towards international response and peace-keeping missions, the role of the helicopter has grown so that it is involved in almost the entire range of the Armed Forces’ activities. Made up of replaceable modules, the Armed Forces' helicopters boast an adaptability that enables deployment in a range of different types of mission – a characteristic that makes them popular in the Armed Forces.
"Land, sea or air, the Helicopter Wing is equipped to deal with all three. We can contribute to all types of operation", Colonel Johan Svensson, commander of the Helicopter Wing, explains.
Since 2005 the Helicopter Wing has successively renewed the helicopter fleet and the total number in service is in constant flux as the older machines are phased out. In total the Armed Forces have invested eight billion Swedish krona (SEK) in purchasing the new helicopter models HKP 14 and HKP 15, but that investment covers more than just the helicopters. Johan Svensson observes that.
"Dividing the total cost by the number of helicopters and say that each helicopter costs so much can give a false picture of the situation, since training, maintenance and spare parts are also included in the contract. Maintenance, in particular, is an important factor to consider since helicopters require a lot of service work. But all that does mean that the helicopters' working life is, in effect, unlimited, since parts are regularly replaced".
Helicopters and the Nordic Battlegroup
Demand for helicopters has increased as a result of the focus on the Armed Forces' international role. The many uses, to which a helicopter may be put, as well as the freedom of manoeuvre that it grants, make these aircraft irreplaceable for all types of mission.
"My conviction is that helicopters are a necessary condition for the success of any mission, or, at any rate, that they are a 'force multiplier', improving the performance of all types of unit. The benefits are especially clear for missions involving a relatively small force operating in a wide area, when the ability to move troops quickly to, and from, problem locations is essential for maintaining a strong military presence across the entire area, at the same time as allowing for concentrated and forceful rapid response operations".
Nordic Battlegroup has a helicopter force consisting in four examples of model 4 helicopters; these serve as carriers of troops and supplies, as well as a simpler form of hospital transport, so-called CASEVAC (Casualty Evacuation). We thought at first that a modified version of model 10 would be included, but, since the modification was delayed, the model 4 helicopters, equipped, among other things, with extra ballistic protection, have been used instead. Johan Svensson explains.
"Modifications to the model 10 helicopter (upgrade B) involve, among other things, new avionics, ballistic protection, EWS (Electronic Warfare Suite), machine gun installation, particle separator and IR (infra-red radiation) suppressors. Delays mean that helicopter 10B won't be taken into service by NBG; instead we re-direct resources to an operative contribution within the ISAF framework. But hospital transportation is the helicopter's most important role for NBG, and for that purpose there's no operational difference between models hkp 4 and hkp 10B".
Modifications are required to ensure that the helicopters can meet the demands posed by operating in a variety of extreme climates and against the backdrop of different sorts of threat scenario, since such conditions have consequences for both power and lift – effecting, in turn, operative capability.
"In dusty environments dust and sand is sucked up into the engines, increasing wear and tear and reducing the power of the engines, and for this reason it is necessary to install a particle separator. This, in combination with extreme heat and high altitude, decreases the helicopter's total power and, as a result, lift capacity".
Future plans for the development of the helicopter fleet include a further round of modifications to the remaining model hkp 10 helicopters, in preparation for possible international operations. In addition, helicopters hkp 14 and hkp 15 are to be re-fitted for service in conditions of enhanced threat.
Flight hours, not a problem
The new generation of helicopters differs from the older models in many respects. As a result, training for the different systems also differs: all training is bought in for hkp 14, and while pilot training is undertaken at the Helicopter Wing for model 15, the flight technicians’ training is still performed by external actors.
"Apart from training courses we have also purchased modern training equipment in the shape of CPT; Cockpit Procedure Training; a fully developed flight simulator for hkp 15. Negotiations are underway at present regarding a contract for a similar system – but able to simulate an entire hull – for model 14, in which both pilots and cabin crew can be trained. These simulators are able to reproduce the entire field of vision in a virtual environment, which is enough to generate a hefty bout of motion sickness; and it is a major advantage for us to be able to make use of these simulators in so close proximity to our centre of operations".
The Helicopter Wing calculates that 15 000 hours in the air are required to meet the needs determined upon by Armed Forces Headquarters. This is not possible with the fleet of helicopters that the Wing has at its disposal today, Johan Svensson informs us.
"Air time for pilots at the level of division is no problem; they fly as many hours as they can manage. The problem lies with the number of hours spent in training in the right sort of helicopter. At the moment we get out a maximum number of hours from the existing fleet, but the helicopter resources available are not in balance with Sweden's defence needs".
Helicopter model hkp 14 on the way
In order to find out the present status of helicopter hkp 14, and when it can be introduced into service, Insats&Försvar puts a number of questions to Ingemar Bengtsson, who is responsible for the NH90/HKP14 programme at the Defence Materiel Administration (FMV).
"During the winter we have worked hard to remedy deficiencies in the documentation related to our helicopters. The Helicopter 14 system is still under development and several countries are having to deal with the same issues as Sweden and the FMV (Swedish Defence Materiel Administration). Our focus is on producing documentation that is both reliable and sufficient for the launch of the entire helicopter system in the Armed Forces".
Ingemar Bengtsson tells us further that Defence Materiel Administration has, in addition, conducted quite a number of ground tests over the winter, in order to asses the functioning of helicopter 14 together with the Armed Forces' existing equipment and infrastructure. Ingemar Bengtsson does not apportion blame for delays to the Armed Forces' decision to purchase a modified version of the NH90, with a greater cabin height.
"The delay is a general NH90 problem. However, deliveries of the helicopter have now started to reach the customer: in addition to Sweden, Germany, Italy, Australia and Finland have all taken receipt of their first helicopters. Product availability for these customers has been a problem for the same reasons as it has for us: under-developed helicopters and deficiencies in documentation".
In answer to the question of when the helicopter can be put into service, Ingmar Bengtsson declares that hkp 14 will be launched when the Defence Materiel Administration are satisfied with the quality of the accompanying documentation.
"Our judgement is that 'data approved for operation of the helicopter' can be delivered to the Defence Materiel Administration from the manufacturer, after approval by FLYGI (Sweden’s inspectorate for military aircraft), before the summer vacation period. The Defence Materiel Administration will then take steps to complete production of technical orders and other important documentation based on the material we receive from the manufacturer. The earliest date for handing over of the system to the Armed Forces is judged to be September 2008, under the condition that deliveries occur according to schedule".